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Secret of Kyoto’s Popularity among International Tourists and the Challenges Faced by the City

 The number of international tourists to Japan in 2016 amounted to approximately 24,040,000, which was a 21.8% increase from the previous year and surprisingly double the level of three years before. It is said that 40 million international tourists in the Olympic year 2020 will not be a pipe dream. The most popular tourist destinations for people from abroad are the Tokyo Metropolis, and Osaka and Kyoto Prefectures. Among them, Osaka and Kyoto attract more than 20% of the international tourists to Japan; this figure certifies Kansai’s status as a hot travel destination for people from abroad. What is the secret of Japan’s popularity among international tourists? Exploring the background of such popularity by taking Kyoto, where I live, as an example, I have identified difficult challenges that cannot be disregarded.
  International tourists to the Kyoto area account for about 10% of all those visiting Japan. Given that Kyoto City as the heart of this area has a population of nearly 1.5 million, just comparing the Kyoto area with much more heavily populated Tokyo and Osaka in the number of international tourists per unit population clearly shows that this area has especially strong power to attract international tourists.
   Kyoto City boasts the unfailing charm of a wide variety of tourism resources, from historic and cultural heritage represented by renowned Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and traditional merchant houses called machiya, along with about 1,000 festivals a year and seasonal events, to traditional craftworks, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and the art of appreciating incense, as well as Kyoto-grown vegetables, souvenirs, kimonos, and the world of Kyoto cuisine. One of the most noteworthy features of the city is its excellent urban environment integrated with nature; while strolling around the city, you can find a clear stream of Kamo River flowing in the downtown area, and rich greenery of mountains surrounding you. As a machiya with an inner garden has long been called “a mountain home in a city,” every corner of the alleys in the heart of the city is filled with harmony between nature and people’s lives. This feature also strongly charms visitors.
   Moreover, the national government’s official decision in 2016 to relocate the Agency of Cultural Affairs to Kyoto has further fueled local people’s enthusiasm to invite international tourists. In April this year, a preparatory office for the relocation will open in Kyoto City, marking the starting point of full-scale preparation for a new Agency of Cultural Affairs. Encouraged by this move, the local community has promptly defined 2017 as “the first year of the capital of culture,” and is cooperating to intensify a tourism campaign under the slogan of the “capital of art and culture.” This plan to relocate the Agency of Cultural Affairs is not only related to Kyoto; there is a great expectation that this plan will trigger efforts to rediscover the history, tradition, art and culture of areas around Japan, and to share the charms of Japan as an excellent tourist destination with the world.
   I think, however, that it is necessary to review whether Kyoto in the current condition maintains its harmony with nature in a true sense, though this question should be asked about Tokyo, Osaka and other regional cities. No doubt Kyoto can be proud to be one of the world’s best tourism destinations in terms of its abundant tourism resources. The seasonal landscapes and atmosphere of nature in Kyoto also help maintain the popularity of this city, with many places famous for beautiful cherry blossoms in spring, little cuckoos in summer, colored leaves in fall, and snow in winter, which bring tourists the joy of representative landscapes in Japan in one place throughout the year. Although such landscapes seem unchanging at a glance, what is the reality?
   I recently had an opportunity to meet Mr. Shinya Senmatsu, a hunter attracting public attention. What led me to this opportunity was my encounter with a book titled I Became a Hunter, written by Mr. Senmatsu.
   Many areas around Japan currently suffer increasing damage to agricultural products and injuries to humans caused by wild animals, such as deer, boars, and monkeys. Kyoto is not an exemption. Some estimate that about three million deer and about 900,000 boars inhabit Japan, and that both populations are still rapidly increasing. Mr. Senmatsu, now aged 42, lives in a mountainous area in Kyoto City. He obtained a hunter’s license when he was a graduate student, and is currently an excellent boar and deer hunter, using traps called kukuriwana, while working at a transport company. He only hunts as many animals as he, his family and friends eat. He says, “Once you enter the mountain, you find this place is a fierce battlefield for all animals. I believe that harmonious coexistence with nature requires us to first consider the fierceness of the natural world, and the lives of animals killed by humans in particular, and have gratitude to the blessings of the mountains, along with reverence for them.” Humans are responsible for the destruction of the mechanism of nature and the devastation of mountains and satoyama (mountains and forests used and maintained by humans). How should we react to the reality that such problems have occurred in the mountains in Kyoto close to us, which are known for the beauty of their landscapes?
   If we believe that the most prominent character of Japanese culture is harmonious coexistence with nature, and that Kyoto can provide a model for tourism featuring this character, no one can accept that we on the center stage of the long-established city may be someday the target of revenge by wild animals that lost their habitats. Kyoto City failed to maintain the highest ranking in the cities where people want to travel most in 2016 (a survey by a famous U.S.-based travel magazine) in three consecutive years, falling from the top to sixth place. This was caused by the deterioration of Kyoto’s urban environment. What I can do now is hope that problems against harmonious coexistence with wild animals will not be an obstacle to the urban environment and status as a tourist destination of Kyoto.
Written by Norio Sato, journalist